You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.” You, Lord, took up my case; you redeemed my life. – Lamentations 3:57-58
I was disappointed after dropping from the Bear 100 at the end of September. It was the right thing to do as I wrote about in my last post but it’s never easy to get over. Part of what made it especially difficult was that it was the only 100 mile race I planned for in 2018 and as a result, the only opportunity to qualify for Western State 100 in 2019. This is one of the premier events in ultra racing and the only way most people get in is to enter the lottery after running a qualifying event. Each year you don’t get selected for the race, but have run a qualifier, they basically double the number of your lottery tickets. After 4 rejections, I had hoped my lottery ticket count would go from 8 to 16 but it looked like I might have to start the process over in 2020 with 1 ticket.
Immediately after my DNF at the Bear, I took a shower, had a decent meal, and could only relax enough for a short nap. Since I couldn’t sleep, I went online to see if I had any options for another race in 2018. It was then I saw a familiar race that would take place in four weeks, the Javelina 100.
3 Reasons I Signed Up
Fortunately I knew I wasn’t in the best mental shape to make this decision and decided to wait a few days before signing up. I had a lot to think about and was concerned I was making a rash decision. One thing to consider was the proximity of the race to the Bear 100 in terms of weeks. Running a second 100-mile race that close, when I was probably not as well trained as I should have been for the first, was a risky proposition.
Three things convinced me I should go for it. The first was how good I felt following the Bear. While +70 miles on that course is no joke, I never pushed very hard due to the difficulty I had breathing and my legs felt good within a couple of days afterwards. Another factor that was reassuring (or I told myself) was that my fastest Boston Marathon time came only four weeks after breaking 3-hours for the first time at the Shamrock Marathon in 2010. The final and biggest reason was that I had already run the Javelina Jundred (click here for 2015 race report) and felt like I could finish it again if I ran smart.
Despite this rationale, I told almost no one about signing up for the race as it approached. Many of my family and friends offer encouragement and prayers before my big events. Some even like to track my progress when possible. However, while I would have liked the prayers, I knew I would be asking the Lord for help throughout the race and ultimately didn’t want any added pressure. As a result, I decided to keep it quiet.
Expect The Unexpected
I unexpectedly signed up for the Javelina 100 the first time in 2015 after the Grindstone 100 was postponed due to flooding. It was a last minute decision for similar reasons and it paid off. The race was awesome three years ago and overall was a great experience again. It is a party in the desert that takes place close to Halloween. It is like no other ultra I have been to. There are costumes (with a little partial nudity), a disco dancing party at one of the aid stations at night, and even some adult beverages offered at aid stations. While I was there “on business” to finish, the environment keeps this looped course in the Arizona desert from being anything other than boring.
In addition to the previously mentioned entertainment, the race is run in a washing machine pattern where we change direction for each of the five loops. This allows you to interact with runners in the front and back of the pack. There are also a couple of other races on the same course which keeps the energy levels up and the course never really feels crowded.
Easy But Strategic Preparation
Unlike the Bear that involved strategically preparing eleven drop bags, the Javelina 100 is approximately a 20 mile loop that you run five times with four aid stations. Two of those that allow drop bags include the start and the halfway point. Overall, this makes it mentally and logistically easier than other races.
The biggest challenge I anticipated from my last run in the desert was the heat and it didn’t disappoint me this time. However, my preparation paid off and after running the first loop in the cool morning at a good pace, I arrived back at the start at ~9:30am. I took my time before heading out for loop #2 since I didn’t expect to be back until about 2pm when temps would be in the 90°s. To deal with the heat, I tried everything I had done in the past or read about:
- Ice Cap: Kept my head cool and allowed cool water to drip down my neck
- Ice Bandana: Kept Ice on my back and shoulders
- Hand Held Bottle: Although I hadn’t trained with them during training, I kept one in my hand filled with ice to help dissipate the heat as well as to drink and pour on myself
- Long White Sleeved Shirt: Might not sound like much but I wore my watch and Road ID over my sleeves that allowed me to fill the end of my sleeves with ice. In addition, I would pour water on my shirt to help keep my body cool in the dry heat
All of these tactics definitely kept me cool and when I stopped at certain aid stations, I actually felt chilly. Given the heat in the middle of the day, I never felt like the sun was a huge factor. I also felt like my nutrition was dialed in better than at most races. From fluid intake to taking in enough calories from peanut butter and jelly, pickles, gels, and more, I remained focused and alert without the traditional mid-day or even late night bonk that I have experienced before. In addition, I was careful not to waste too much time at aid stations. Other than filling everything I had with ice during loops two and three, I was in and out in good time for most of the race.
Overall everything was going better than I could have hoped. I finished loop #3 in 12 hours and 50 minutes. This meant that I was averaging a 12 ½ min per mile pace and holding this pace would mean a finish around 21 hours although I knew that was unlikely. Based on everything I did, I was feeling great as I headed into the night. While I expected to slow down, I felt like a sub-24 hour finish might happen even if I wasn’t planning for it.
Wild Life & The Night
I put on dry clothes and headed into the night hopeful that things would continue to go well. However, it was during the 4thloop that I finally started to feel the combination of running +70 miles in the mountains 4-weeks earlier and training that was less than ideal. The further I went, the slower I became as my legs felt like lead. I thought it might be nutrition related but had no issue taking in calories and other than my legs, I felt good mentally and my stomach wasn’t bothering me. Despite my legs wanting to stop, I kept moving forward and felt confident that my main goal to finish was going to happen.
Maybe it was my new Neo+ headlamp but I felt like I was seeing or hearing more wild life in the desert on this run than I had last time. While I didn’t see any Javelina’s, there were plenty of spiders and I spotted some smaller rodents as well. While I am no fan of spiders, I preferred them over a large rattlesnake I saw earlier in the day near the Coyote Aid Station. It was the biggest rattler I had seen outside of a zoo and was not interested in taking a picture. Then as dawn approached, I heard what I assume was a coyote on my final loop. At this point I didn’t care what was out there and just wanted to be finished. I would have really liked a pacer to help motivate me to move faster but I used the time to thank the Lord for keeping me safe and healthy enough to hopefully finish.
It took me 12 hours and 50 minutes to run 61 miles and almost 12 ½ hours to run the next 39 miles for a final time of 25 hours 20 minutes. As I approached the finish, I was excited that I beat my previous time on this same course by almost an hour (26:19). More importantly, I would have my Western States qualifying race and subsequent 16 tickets for the lottery on December 1st.
The party at the starting area never stopped from the time I left on Saturday morning through each subsequent loop until I finished on Sunday. I was feeling good and looking forward to cleaning up and getting something to eat before I jumped on my afternoon flight back home to Philly.
Alison was excited for me as she knew better than most that her husband would be difficult (more difficult than normal ) to deal with if I had another DNF and didn’t have my qualifier.
I am always so thankful for everyone who is so supportive and encouraging! I hope all my friends and family understand why I didn’t share that I was doing this race. Overall it was a great race and I am grateful for the experience. As always, I made some new friends and saw some old ones at this event. While I don’t plan to return for a third time, it definitely is not out of the question. Maybe next time I’ll actually plan to run it with more than four weeks notice.